Arkansas ConAgra worker files benzene suit in Madison County

Steve Gonzalez Aug. 9, 2005, 9:16am

Randy Gori

An Arkansas man who worked at ConAgra in Alton for 37 years filed a benzene suit in Madison County Circuit Court Aug. 4, alleging his employer and 26 other defendants are responsible for his illness.

Cecil Thomason alleges that during the course of his employment he was exposed to and inhaled, ingested or otherwise absorbed benzene or products containing benzene which were designed, manufactured, sold or distributed by the 26 defendants who include Shell Oil, BP, Exxon Mobil, Texaco and Citgo.

Thomason first became aware that he developed Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia (WM), a disease caused by benzene and products containing benzene in August, his complaint states. WM is a cancer of the B lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) that causes overproduction of monoclonal macroglobulin (IgM antibody).

According to the National Cancer Institute, the cause of WM is not known. But, hepatitis C infection may be a significant risk factor for the development of cryoglobulinemia (the presence of an abnormal protein in the blood that causes gelling at low temperatures), which is often associated with WM. Scientists believe genetics may play a role in WM because the disease has been seen to run in families.

Thomason claims his exposure to benzene was completely foreseeable and could or should have been anticipated by the defendants.

“The defendants knew or should have known benzene has a toxic, poisonous and highly deleterious effect upon the health of the persons inhaling, ingesting or otherwise absorbing them,” the complaint states.

According to OSHA, benzene is an aromatic hydrocarbon that is produced by burning natural products. It is a component of products derived from coal and petroleum and is found in gasoline and other fuels.

Benzene, which is known to be a carcinogen, is used in the manufacture of plastics, detergents, pesticides, and other chemicals.

With exposures from less than five years to more than 30 years, individuals have developed, and died from, leukemia. Long-term exposure may affect bone marrow and blood production. Short-term exposure to high levels of benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, unconsciousness and death.

Thomason claims the defendants’ failed to exercise ordinary care and caution for his safety, health and welfare, and failed to provide him a safe place to work by:

  • allowing or requiring the use of products that contain benzene;

  • failing to warn him of the dangers of inhaling, ingesting, or otherwise absorbing benzene;

  • failing to provide any or adequate instruction regarding the safe methods of working with and around products containing benzene; and

  • providing him with products containing benzene and required him to perform his duties with the products.

    Thomason claims he suffers from a chemically-induced disease, became liable for large sums of money in medical expenses, suffers great physical pain and mental anguish, and fears that he will contract additional diseases as a result of his exposure.

    His wife, Shirley, also is seeking damages claiming she has been deprived of the services, society, companionship, love and affection of her husband. She also claims she was dependent on him for the necessities of life and other concomitants of married life.

    The Thomasons are seeking a judgment against the defendants jointly and severally for actual compensatory damages as are fair and reasonable, in excess of $150,000 and in addition to the compensatory damages, punitive and exemplary damages excess of $150,000 plus all costs of the suit.

    They are represented by Randy Gori of Goldenberg, Miller, Heller & Antognoli of Edwardsville. The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge George Moran, Jr.

    05 L 707

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